Physical Therapy Versus Back Surgery — What’s Right for You?

If you have chronic back pain from a spine condition, you should try to keep a positive attitude about treatment. Although pain and other symptoms can be very difficult, there are steps that can lead to relief. A question many people ask us is if they will need back surgery. Another is how effective surgery is compared to treatments like physical therapy. 

The answer to these questions depends on many factors, including the diagnosis, severity of symptoms, medical history, and previous treatment. In general, patients should fully pursue nonsurgical treatment before exploring back surgery. In fact, a large number of people find lasting relief and are able to enjoy a good quality of life with physical therapy and other options. 

To help you make a more informed decision about your care, BEST Health System is sharing this guide to understanding the treatment options for back pain. If you have any questions or want to learn more about your options for relief, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

Why physical therapy and other conservative treatments are effective 

Although most spine conditions, such as spinal arthritis or herniated discs, can worsen over time, they still respond well to conservative treatments. This is because the goal is to relieve pain and improve function in the spine while taking steps to reduce stress and pressure on the spinal column. 

Physical therapy is a particularly effective way to achieve this and uses primarily natural exercises and hands-on techniques. These include:

  • Therapeutic exercise — A combination of active and passive stretches and exercises can stabilize and strengthen the spine while improving the range of motion. 
  • Manual therapy — Physical therapists can use therapeutic massage and myofascial release to help mobilize soft tissue and joints while improving blood flow. 
  • Movement and posture training — Physical therapy can also help patients learn better posture and mechanics that reduce stress on the spine and reduce pain during activity. 

Physical therapy can be highly effective when combined with other treatments. For example, pain-relieving injections can help people with severe back pain find enough relief to complete a course of physical therapy that would not have been possible otherwise. 

Hot/cold therapy and over-the-counter medication are also effective at-home measures that patients can use to relieve back pain on an as-needed basis. 

Considering back surgery — questions to ask your spine surgeon

Back surgery will generally become a consideration if weeks or months of conservative treatment do not provide the relief necessary to engage in the activities of daily living. It is important to find a spine surgeon you can trust who has the experience and credentials necessary to offer you the best chance of long-term relief. Be prepared to seek out multiple opinions and trust your instincts when speaking with any prospective spine surgeon. 

Questions any patient should ask when considering back surgery include: 

  • What experience do you have treating my specific diagnosis?
  • What expectations should I have for recovery? 
  • Are there any conservative options you would still recommend me to pursue? 
  • Do you perform minimally invasive outpatient surgery? 

Look for spine surgeons who take the time to explain your condition and proposed procedure to you. Patient-centered care for a treatment like back surgery matters, and you should expect a warm and friendly demeanor as well as eye contact from your surgeon and the staff. 

Reach out to BEST Health System

From nonsurgical care to back surgery, the multidisciplinary team at USA Spine Care can help you develop the personalized treatment plan that’s right for your wellness goals. We’re committed to delivering the highest level of care for anyone who comes to us for relief. 

Contact us today to learn more.